Je suis Charlie: The future of free press after Charlie Hebdo

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Attendees hold "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) signs as several hundred people gather in solidarity with victims of two terrorist attacks in Paris on Jan. 10. (Jason Decrow | AP)

Attendees hold “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) signs as several hundred people gather in solidarity with victims of two terrorist attacks in Paris on Jan. 10. (Jason Decrow | AP)

Last week, few people knew of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Now, in the wake of a horrifying attack resulting in 12 fatalities, hysteria has been unleashed, leaving the future of free press up for public debate.

According to the BBC, the attack was the “deadliest terror attack in France since 1961 during the Algerian war.” It is suspected that the gunmen were affiliated with the jihadist group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and chose to attack the Charlie Hebdo headquarters after viewing a controversial cartoon mocking the prophet Muhammad.

The first edition of Hebdo published since the attack depicts the prophet Muhammad on the cover, holding a sign that reads, “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” the unifying slogan that came about in the wake of the attack. Above, it reads, “All is forgiven.” Hebdo’s resiliency is being called heroic by most, but others think they provoked the attack and deserved the consequences.

Anjem Choudary, a radical muslim cleric in London wrote, “Why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?”

Calling Hebdo cartoonists provocateurs implies that their murders were justified and that murder is acceptable as long as there are reasons behind it. It is not. In the race to place blame, logic has been set aside indefinitely and has been replaced with religious intolerance and the stifling of free speech.

Then, there are people like media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” Muslims do not have to apologize on the behalf of a group of jihadist extremists.

Nicholas Kristof put it perfectly when he said, “The average Christian had nothing to apologize for when Christian fanatics in the former Yugoslavia engaged in genocide against Muslims.” All major organized religions have inherent flaws, but we must not be so quick to forget that the peaceful outnumber the extreme.

Islam is not the only target, or even the most frequent target of Hebdo cartoonists. Organized religion, institutionalized violence and human indecency are the intended targets. And as humans, we reserve every right to criticize the ideals we perceive toxic to societal progression.

Leftists have often perceived organized religion as a perpetuator of injustice on a mass scale. Labeling a set of ideals as a “religion” offers an unmistakable guise for violence and oppression. This is not to say that Hebdo’s content was not offensive, but ultimately it is harmless comedy directed toward organized religion as a whole.

Jon Stewart commented on the situation and said, “I know very few people go into comedy as an act of courage, namely because it shouldn’t have to be that.” There is a distinct difference between propaganda and satire in this case. The journalists at Hebdo are not representing a government organization, and the intention of their work is in no way meant to incite xenophobia, Islamophobia or any other widespread misunderstanding of values. It is intended to be a pure form of expression, a way to cope with the injustices of the world.

The bottom line is this: We can debate the ethical standing of Hebdo publications, or we can understand that our opponents to freedom are not words and cartoons, but oppression and violence. These journalists did not deserve to die in the name of their craft.

Violence is the enemy, not any one religious sect, race or form of artistic expression. In this time of terror and extremism, we must put our differences aside and stand united in the name of freedom and nonviolent expression, stand united in the name of Charlie Hebdo.